George Faulkner

George Faulkner

George Faulkner (c. 1703 – 30 August 1775) was one of the most important Irish publishers and booksellers. He forged a publishing relationship with Jonathan Swift and parlayed that fame into an extensive trade. He was also deeply involved with the argument over copyright infringement and piracy, both creating and fighting "Irish editions."

Faulkner's year of birth, which is not certain, was probably 1703; his place of birth is unknown. He served his apprenticeship from 1717 to 1724 in Dublin, later setting up his own business. In the 1720s, while travelling frequently to London, he became a friend of the London printer, William Bowyer. In 1730, he suffered gangrene in one leg and had to have it amputated. It is known that he had a wife, the widow Mary Taylor.

Relationship with Swift

Swift's usual printer during the 1720s was Benjamin Motte in London, but Faulkner published Swift's Drapier's Letters in 1725. The details of how and why Faulkner got this assignment are obscure. Both men were in London in 1726, but, again, there is no direct evidence that the two were associated very clearly. However, by 1730, Swift and Faulkner were friends, and Faulkner's Dublin Journal began to both favor Swift's causes and take up Swift's style after this time.

In 1732, Faulkner published Queries in Dublin Journal and was brought to the House of Lords to answer charges for doing so. The piece had been part of Swift's Considerations upon Two Bills Relating to the Clergy, and Swift admired Faulkner's courage. Swift must have discussed giving Faulkner an edition of his Works, as Faulkner himself attested, because in 1733 Faulkner advertised a subscription for the multi-volume work. Motte objected, and Swift claimed that the edition was without authority. However, when the edition appeared in 1735, Swift backed it and attested to its validity. Faulkner claimed that he and Swift had gone over every page in the Works, that Swift would read each page to two hired men who were by, and he would correct each line until the language was perfectly understandable to them. Nevertheless, Motte got an injunction forbidding sale of Works in London.

Faulkner was Swift's Irish publisher for the rest of the latter's life. This association made Faulkner's name and generated a substantial income for him. He thereafter stayed in Dublin and made his visits to London much more brief.

Piracy and anti-piracy

In this period, Irish booksellers frequently published English books without making arrangements with the copyright holders. Motte accused Faulkner of piracy unjustly, but Faulkner was not above producing illicit editions. A book imported from London would be expensive for Irish readers, both due to the transportation, the importation fees, and the relative differences in currency. Irish labor was less expensive than London labor, and so Irish booksellers could produce Irish copies at a much lower cost than the authentic London editions. If an Irish bookseller made arrangements with a London book seller who controlled the copyright, then the resulting edition would be more expensive than a pirate edition but less expensive than an import. Whenever possible, Faulkner relied on his trips to London and his friendships with London booksellers to arrange for authorized, Irish editions of works.

After the edition of Swift's Works, Faulkner began to boast of over 200 "London books." He produced the Irish edition of Alexander Pope's Works in 1736 and, illegally, Samuel Richardson's Pamela in 1741. Richardson was himself a printer, and he would eventually protest the piracy. Faulkner produced the largest publication yet attempted in Ireland in the form of The Universal History (1744–6), and he became a friend of the Earl of Chesterfield, who had become Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.

By 1748, Faulkner had over one thousand titles, and he published Irish authors such as Henry Brooke as well as English ones. His friendship with Chesterfield increased Faulkner's profile even more, and he was welcome at the most prestigious assemblies.

In 1754, Samuel Richardson freely distributed An Address to the Public to protest his treatment by Faulkner and other Irish printers. Faulkner had licensed to print Richardson's Clarissa, and he arranged to be the Irish publisher of Sir Charles Grandison in July 1753. However, by August, Faulkner had received only a few sheets of the first volume, while several other Irish printers were seemingly ready to print large portions of the novel. When Faulkner reported this to Richardson, he accused Faulkner of collusion with the other printers, who had bribed Richardson's workers to acquire proofs of the novel. Faulkner was caught between competing forces. By attempting to reprint texts legitimately, he had set himself against his less scrupulous countrymen, but by sometimes printing without a financial arrangement, he had already marked himself as a pirate.

Faulkner had been campaigning to get rid of the pirate printers in Ireland, as they were competition, and yet he was so tarred with the charge of piracy that he was even excluded from scientific societies in England.

Later years

In 1755, Faulkner's wife died, and he himself suffered broken bones from a sign falling on him from a second storey. Some time during these years, he bought a "villa" to which he would retire, and he took up gardening and entertaining.

In the 1760s, Faulkner was again eminent. His friendship with Chesterfield was very much to his advantage, and Faulkner was involved in scientific societies and historical societies in Ireland and England. On his visit to London in 1761, he was extremely popular as a speaker.

This high profile made him a target for satire. Samuel Foote took aim at Faulkner in his Orators of 1762. The character of Peter Paragraph is a one-legged publisher with a lisp. The play was acted in the Haymarket Theatre, where it was a success. While friends advised Faulkner to sue for libel, he stayed his hand. When the play was acted at Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin, however, Faulkner brought suit. While Faulkner won in the courts, the fine imposed upon Foote was trivial, and the episode did not cast the publisher in a good light. Faulkner, therefore, made sure to pirate Foote's play and publish it without license.

In 1770, Faulkner was elected alderman of the city of Dublin. He handed his business over to his former apprentice, Thomas Todd. Todd, through Faulkner's connections and fame, published a twenty-volume edition of Swift's Works in 1772, and he published Chesterfield's Letters to his Son in 1774.

Faulkner died on 30 August 1775 without issue.


  • Tierney, James E. "George Faulkner" in Matthew, H.C.G. and Brian Harrison, eds. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. vol. 19, 150–3. London: OUP, 2004.
  • Boylan, Henry (1998). A Dictionary of Irish Biography, 3rd Edition. Dublin: Gill and MacMillan. p. 128. ISBN 0-7171-2945-4.

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